Cafe Society

Year in review: Denver's ten biggest culinary stories of 2012

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7) Lancer Lounge loses its lease — and, sadly, its owner Back in October, the Lancer Lounge — oh, the dazed and confused memories — abruptly shuttered when the neighborhood drunk tank was evicted for non-payment of back taxes. Tempers flared from regulars — and Cafe Society commenters — who asked, among other questions: "Is it me, or are there people who are Hell bent on destroying Denver and it's history?" The last night at the Lancer was celebratory, but sadly, just a few weeks after that final hurrah, owner Becky Conda was found dead at the home of a friend and colleague. The space is now Vesper Lounge, a spruced-up bar with beers, cocktails and Middle Eastern food from Frank Bonanno, who now oversees three spaces on that block, including Bones and Mizuna, as well as Luca d'Italia, which resides right around the corner.

6) Lance Barto is (shockingly) sent packing from Central Bistro & Bar Just hours before service on New Year's Eve, Lance Barto, the opening executive chef of Central Bistro & Bar, was handed his walking papers. As Barto pointed out in my interview with him just days after his departure, "It was my baby and I lost it, and the most heartbreaking part is that we've had nothing but super-positive feedback from guests and media, and it's so sad that I was pushed out of something that I helped create and was really proud of." There are quite a few chefs we can think of who don't deserve to run a kitchen, but Barto was turning out plate after plate of vibrant foodstuffs, bolstered by pristine ingredients rooted in the bounty of small farms, and his abrupt departure from what had blossomed into a favorite local hotspot leaves a hole in Central's kitchen — and our food-obsessed hearts.

5) Pagliacci's, Denver's oldest single-family-owned Italian restaurant, shutters In its heyday, north Denver, long a community of tight-knit Italian immigrants, was an expressive catch-all of red sauce mom-and-pops, but over the last generation the old-school joints that many of us grew up with (to this day, Little Pepina's remains my favorite Italian joint in Denver) started slipping into the abyss. And in August, we saw the end of Pagliacci's, a restaurant that had survived an unbelievable 66 years before darkening its hallowed hallways. Long live the steaming tureens of minestrone.

4) After fifteen years, Matt Selby says goodbye to the Vesta Group In one of the year's most shocking chef departures, Matt Selby (Matty to just about everyone) made the decision to pack his knives and hang up his whites after fifteen years as the beloved chef — and face — of Vesta Dipping Grill, the LoDo restaurant conceived by Josh and Jen Wolkon, who then went on, along with Selby, to open Steuben's and Ace. His exit made jaws drop — after all, the Wolkens are respected restaurateurs with a sterling reputation — but Selby was spending less and less time behind the burners, and this is a guy who was born to cook. And that's exactly what he'll be doing beginning January 11 at the Corner House, an intimate new restaurant in Jefferson Park.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson